Her Parents Forbid Their Marriage as Teens. 60 Years Later, They Tied the Knot.

Family photo
Len Albrighton and Jeanette Steer on their wedding day, Feb. 11, 2023.

About a year ago, Len Albrighton got down on one knee, and proposed to his first love, Jeanette Steer – for the second time. The first time was six decades ago.

Albrighton, now 79, and Steer, now 78, met in nursing school in 1963 on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England. They fell in love fast.

“I fancied her,” said Albrighton, who was 19 at the time.

“It was quite pleasant,” Steer said of their teenage romance.

Family photos
Right: Albrighton at age 19.
Left: Steer at age 18.

They dated for only a few months before Albrighton decided to propose. Steer said yes. Her parents, however, were not on board. They said because she was only 18, their daughter was far too young to be a bride.

At first, Steer considered defying her parents, and was going to join Albrighton in Australia, where they wanted to move and build a life together, as the Australian government was offering financial incentives to increase the country’s population. On his 20th birthday, though, in 1964, he received a devastating letter from his first love, calling off the whole plan.

“I was not very happy at all,” said Steer, explaining that she felt she couldn’t disobey her parents’ wishes.

Albrighton was distraught, too. He felt helpless.

“There was nothing I could do it about it,” Albrighton said.

And so, the pair parted ways. Two years later, they both married other people and went on to have their own families; Steer had two daughters, and Albrighton had a son and two daughters. Although they never spoke after the letter arrived, Steer kept a photograph of Albrighton – who moved back to England with his wife in 1968 – tucked away in her purse.

“I thought about him over the years,” she said.

Still, she never expected to see him again. But 52 years after she last laid eyes on him, Albrighton showed up unannounced outside her home while she was gardening.

It was 2015, and Albrighton – who had gotten divorced in 1989 – was visiting his brother on the Isle of Wight, about 120 miles from where he lived in Hertfordshire, England. He wondered if anyone he knew from his younger years still lived on the island.

“The first person I was going to look up was Jeanette,” said Albrighton, who found her on an ancestry site and discovered her married name.

He visited the local library and learned where Steer was living. On a whim, he decided to be bold and stop by her home. He couldn’t believe his luck when he saw her standing outside gardening as he pulled up to her house.

Steer said she looked up from her garden and saw a man approaching. She didn’t recognize her long-ago love.

“I was a fresh-faced young man when she last saw me,” Albrighton said, explaining that he grew a white beard as he got older.

“It was a long time ago,” said Steer, who was still married and living with her husband at the time.

Albrighton introduced himself.

“It was very nice to see him and get in touch again,” Steer said.

Their exchange was friendly and pleasant, they both said. That year, Albrighton sent Steer and her husband a Christmas card, as well as the year after that. He also shared his contact information.

Steer’s husband died in 2016. The following year, Albrighton visited the Isle of Wight again for a vacation, and reached out to Steer. They began spending some time together.

“We fell in love again gradually, and the rest is history now,” Albrighton said.

“I was a bit apprehensive to start with,” said Steer. “After a while, I really fell in love with him, and it was great.”

In February of 2018, Steer moved to Stevenage to live with Albrighton, though she kept her home on Isle of Wight, so they could visit frequently with her family and have a place to stay.

“When we’re out anywhere, we always hold hands. It’s lovely,” said Steer, who is disabled. About 35 years ago, she was sitting in a parked car when another vehicle crashed into it, leaving her with permanent damage to her spine, which makes it difficult to walk long distances. Albrighton, she said, helps look after her health.

“If he thinks I’m doing too much, he makes me sit down and have a rest,” she said.

Five years after they moved in together – and 60 years after they were originally engaged – the couple finally tied the knot on Feb. 11 at the local registry office, followed by a 40-person reception at a hotel with their families and closest friends. Between them, the couple has 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

“She was a beautiful bride,” said Albrighton, adding that in addition to a new wedding band, Steer still wears the original engagement ring he bought her in 1963 – which she always kept hidden in a jewelry box. As newlyweds, “we tell each other we love each other probably about 20 times a day.”

“I’m spoiled,” said Steer. “He does all the cooking and making the tea.”

Sometimes, they reflect on their past – and wonder what could have been if Steer’s parents did not object to their union all those years ago.

“It would have been nice to be together, and have our own family between us,” Steer said. “But we can’t go back and start again, so we just accept as we are now, and be happy together for the rest of our years.”

Their story, the couple said, has taught them to never give up hope.

“When you find love,” Albrighton said, “hold onto it.”